Wishful Thinking?

I hope so, but sometimes I fear not.

In another egregious example of 911 opportunism, Senator Schumer has a piece in yesterday’s Washington Post on how September 11 means that the government has to get bigger. I guess that we’re supposed to think that, if the government doesn’t grow, the terrorists win…

I was going to put this up yesterday, but I got busy with other things. Then Chris Pellerito shamed me into finishing up by beating me to it.

Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, those who believe the federal government should shrink have had the upper hand.

Oh, really? I guess that explains why government has been growing faster than inflation or population over the past twenty years…

Sept. 11 changed all that. For the foreseeable future, the federal government will have to grow.

No, Chuckie, it doesn’t have to grow–it just has to change. It needs to focus on things that the Founders foresaw the federal government doing, and cease doing those things that they did not.

Our society will have to examine the vulnerable pressure points in our country — air travel, nuclear power plants, public health systems, power and computer grids, border crossings — and work to protect each from terrorist attack. The list of vulnerable areas will grow as technology evolves and continues to allow small groups of terrorists to threaten large parts of our society. Only one entity has the breadth, strength and resources to lead this recalibration and pay for its costs — the federal government.

To ask each town and village to guard all the power lines, gas lines and aqueducts is too much; to ask large private-sector companies such as airlines and food processors to be wholly responsible for the security of their products is also too much.

It is “too much”? Why is it too much? Who better to guard a reservoir than the town to whom it provides water? Who better to watch a food process than the food processor? Where does the good Senator think that his cherished “federal government” gets its money? Manna from heaven? Every dollar that gets shipped off to Washington is a dollar that’s not available to provide for local security.

It is not just that Washington is the only entity with the ability to raise the resources our new situation requires; the notion of letting a thousand different ideas compete and flourish — which works so well to create goods and services — does not work at all in the face of a national security emergency. Unity of action and purpose is required, and only the federal government can provide it.

Even assuming that’s true, it doesn’t require growth in government.

And in fact it’s not true. Adopting a flawed standard and forcing everyone to comply doesn’t enhance security–it diminishes it. We followed a federal standard in dealing with hijacking on 911–cooperate with the hijackers. One plane in Pennsylvania tried a different approach–who knows how many lives or buildings were thereby saved? Adopting a federal standard creates a monoculture that is much easier to attack–the terrorists can count on a certain response in all circumstances.

Sorry, Chuckie, but competition works in defense, just as it does in the marketplace (not that I think you really believe that it works there either–it’s just lip service in a flawed attempt to make you sound reasonable).

The era of a shrinking federal government has come to a close. From 1912 to 1980, the federal government grew with little interruption. The modern conservative movement, beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964 and attaining power with Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, argued that Washington had grown too large, too inefficient and too out of touch. Even liberals had to admit there was some truth to this argument. For the next two decades, the federal government stopped growing, and by some measures even shrank, with Bill Clinton doing more of the shrinking than any other president.

Why do you think that you can get away with this wholesale rewriting of history, Chuckie? Don’t you think we’re capable of fact checking? There’s this thing called “The Internet” that allows us to look up year-on-year statistics of almost any parameter we wish.

By what measures did it even stop growing, let alone shrink? The only one that I can think of is number of federal employees, which is utterly worthless as a means of measuring the growth of government. When Congress passes a law involuntarily deputizing me to keep track of who has a visa and who doesn’t, or forcing me to contribute my mud puddle to part of our wetlands heritage, the government just grew, even if they didn’t make me a GS-13. When NASA lays off civil servants, but hires aerospace contractors, with taxpayer funds, to do the same thing that they would have done, the federal work force shrinks, but not the government. At best, Reagan slowed down the rate of growth.

And most of the “shrinkage” of the work force by Bill Clinton came from the military and intelligence agencies. You know, that part of the government that was supposed to help prevent what happened on September 11? The one that, unlike most of your vaunted agencies created in the past seventy years, actually has a Constitutionally-ordained role? The one that, even in the demoralized and depleted state in which Mr. Clinton left it, is kicking terrorist butt in Afghanistan right now (though we may have to delay any further campaigns until we restock things like Daisy Cutters and smart munitions, which Mr. Clinton’s Pentagon didn’t think necessary to purchase all throughout the nineties)?

But our new situation has dramatically reversed that trend. Within a few years, those like Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, who believe that any time the federal government moves, its fingers should be chopped off, will be fighting an increasingly desperate rear guard action.

No, Chuck–you’re the one fighting the rear-guard action. Remember one of your favorite issues–federal gun control? People are rushing to the gun counters and signing up for training, even in your own state of New York. Even the “soccer Moms” are down at the firing range.

The changing times present President Bush with what could be the greatest challenge of his presidency. The tectonic plates beneath us are inexorably moving us to larger federal involvement. Surveys show that the American people are willing to cede more authority and dollars to Washington to do such things as tighten borders, make the skies safer and shore up our public health systems.

Surveys show lots of things, Chuckie. It just depends on what questions you ask, and how you ask them. They’re willing to cede more authority and dollars to do those things only insofar as they believe that it will be effective. After a few months of dealing with federal civil servants every time they get on an airplane, they may rethink these issues. And they may be persuadable that while we increase federal involvement in some areas, we should be decreasing it in others, particularly as they continue to take more responsibility for their own lives, and realize that government won’t, and can’t always be there to hold their hand and wipe their nose, and shoot the bad guys, no matter how much authority we cede, and how many dollars we send to our betters in Washington.

Many who know George Bush well say he instinctively recognizes this change. But many in the base of his party do not. Since Sept. 11, the president has had to face down the hard right as often as he has fought with Democrats.

This isn’t about “right” and “left.” That’s pre-911 partisan bullshit.

It’s about smart and dumb. It’s about Constitutional and not.

It’s about freedom and responsibility.